Why Is My Dog Eager to Be Pet One Minute and Growling the Next?

Updated on November 2, 2016

Why is my dog friendly one moment, aggressive the next?

Why is my dog friendly one moment, aggressive the next?
Why is my dog friendly one moment, aggressive the next? | Source

Why is My Dog so Unpredictable?

Did you ever find yourself thinking that your dog has a dual-personality, closely resembling the canine version of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde? Is your dog one minute friendly with your guests and the next growling, barking, or even snapping? It is normal to feel quite upset, especially if you have invested lots of time in socializing and training your dog, and if this is a fairly new behavior.

As a dog trainer, it is not uncommon for me to hear about owners wondering why their dog has drastically changed. Luckily, there are some possible explanations for this behavior, however, good management and a strategic plan are a must to help Rover gain back that stable temperament owners are missing so badly.

Causes for Such Unpredictable Behaviors

Often, dog owners assume their dog is acting out of protection. In true protection however, you would expect some sort of threat going on. Dog trainer and behavior consultant Pam Young claims ''true protection dogs are FRIENDLY to people when their owner has no reason to feel threatened.'' Following are some potential causes for unpredictable Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndromes.

  • Pain and Medical Conditions

Many dogs go into a ''Dr Jeckyl Mr Hyde'' attitude when they have on and off ear infections. In this case, poor dog is right, it hurts upon being pat on the head especially when the ears are hot and inflamed! Pain therefore is a plausible and understanding trigger that may cause similar reactions, however, there are other medical conditions known to cause aggression in previously friendly dogs such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease.

  • Weak Nerves

Most dogs are therefore not protective nor guarding, so if your dog is reacting to friendly people in non-threatening scenarios, most likely what you are seeing is a case of ''weak nerves'' or perhaps, simply a dog telling people petting him that he has had ''enough''. It may be difficult to determine without seeing his body language whether your dog is trying to convey ''you are making me uncomfortable'' or if he is saying a more assertive ''I have had enough, now back off!'' kind of statement

  • Second Fear Stage

If the dog is between 6 and 14 months old, it could he or she is going through its second fear period, according to ''Diamonds in the Ruff'' quoted:

  1. ''Many dogs will show a rise in their level of aggression (reactivity) during this time. In large breeds this period could extend longer since it is tied to sexual maturity. Incidents may occur more than once. Corresponds with growth spurts. Therefore it may happen more than once as the puppy matures.''
  2. ''May suddenly be apprehensive about new things or shy or timid of new people or situations.''
  3. ''This is a fear of new situations and are handled with the utmost patience.''
  4. ''It is better to ignore the whole situation than to reinforce the fear by praising the dog or petting him while he is afraid. When you "reassure" a dog with pets and "it's okay, fella", you are telling him it is okay to be frightened and you are creating a potential problem.''
  5. ''Build confidence through training.''
  • Dislike of Head Pats/Hugs

Are people patting your dog on the head? Many dogs do not do well being pat on the head. His growling therefore may be your dog's way to say ''I do not like this approach''. Many dogs do better with a chest rub. Patricia McConnell in her book ''For the Love of a Dog'' claims that wolf researchers claim to use head pats to discourage pushy wolves and have them leave! Many dogs dislike hugs read the reasons why here: ''Why Dogs Dislike Hugs''

  • Aloofness and ''I've Had Enough'' Syndrome

If your dog does well for the first few seconds of being pet and then becomes aggressive after a while,it could be he is OK with an initial introduction and then he simply has enough. Some dogs become a bit more aloof as they grow, while others may simply want to be ''in charge'' of their interactions. Even with other dogs, at times, dogs may be OK with a dog sniffing them for a few seconds, but then they may change attitude if the interaction is longer than what they are comfortable with.

If this is the case, make the introduction with your friends very brief, simply have the people let him sniff their hands, and then if he seems friendly, have them ask him a sit. If he complies, let them give a brief pat followed by a treat. This should accomplish several things:

  1. It should significantly reduce his chances for growling and the less he growls the more likely the behavior will extinguish.
  2. It should leave a positive impression since it leaves him craving for more. Just as you would stop a training session on a positive note, try doing the same when he is around people.
  3. The command should diffuse any tension since it will help the dog concentrate on something else other than being reactive.
  4. By petting briefly before delivering the treat the dog should learn to associate being pet with a treat, and therefore increase his willingness to be pet. He may therefore with time, perhaps tolerate gradually longer petting sessions, however, avoid this if you cannot read signs of increasing stress and discomfort. You want to make safety your top priority and keep your dog comfortable, always ending your session on a positive note. Many times when dogs react upon being pet, the interaction was too long and too close and personal for the dog's taste. Keep it short and sweet if your dog wants attention, so to put him to success. Don't put him in the situation of having to communicate "I had enough".
  • Conflict Aggression

Worth mentioning, is ''conflict-related aggression'' where dogs exhibit ambivalent signs, like one moment they want to be pet, the next, they are aggressive and no longer in the mood. According to the Purdue University Animal Behavior Clinic: ''Affected dogs learn to use aggression to get themselves out of any uncomfortable situation. The aggression is reinforced because the anticipated "bad" event does not occur.''

Growling, therefore, becomes a way for the dog to protect itself from perceived harm (which may be unfounded), and therefore terminates the uncomfortable situation, and since most likely your friends stop petting him the moment he growls, the growling is reinforced and puts roots.

Disclaimer: Please consult with a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist if your dog is exhibiting aggression. You are fully responsible for any of your actions. By reading this article you are accepting such disclaimer.

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    • profile image

      Jaelon Hunter 6 months ago

      We have 2 huskies and one is acting more on the aggressive side and is looking at house hold members as food and making small nips at others he is 8yrs old

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      Tom 8 months ago

      It's 12 at night and my backyard it connected to the side door of the neighbors. I let my dog out and a man I never seen before comes around the corner speaking to me. He tells me he has a german shepard and that the pit bull is the girls that lives there. My dog sniffs him let's him pet him then backs off very aggressively and stands behind me barking at the man. The guy shakes my hand tells me his name then walks off into the darkness. Is my dog telling me something?

    • profile image

      Casey D. 12 months ago

      My 1 yr old doxy/beagle mix is exhibiting similar behaviors to this with my mom. I'm seeking help from a behaviorist to try and work through it, but usually my dog will try to nip at my mom (and only my mom) after a few seconds of petting. We've had her 3 months (rescued) and it's happened at least 3 times.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 22 months ago from USA

      Growls are good, they are a way for dogs to communicate they are uncomfortable before resorting to more serious threats such as snaps and bites, so it's a good thing this dog has been using his warning system. You are in a dog's territory and dogs may not be too comfortable having new people entering their homes. Let the dog associate you with good things. You can try to get some kibble on a visit and then on the next, hold it in your hand and as you walk in, drop it around.Drop some nearby the same area where he growled at you. When you leave, drop some too by the door. Avoid sudden movements (don't toss the kibble, just drop as you walk), avoid direct eye contact and don't walk near resources such as sleeping areas, food bowls and beds in case he is possessive. Please be careful and if you are worried let the owner know and see what options you may have.

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      jess 22 months ago

      I am kinda house sitting for a neighbor thats out of town I go to his house 3 times a day and feed and let the dog out to go potty well for some reason he growled at me and I wasnt even touching him should I be scared that he will bite me he is a husky and has never done this to anyone

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 6 years ago from chennai

      Useful tips for pet lovers.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      My dog does not like head pats or, to a lesser degree, hugs, but LOVES tummy tickles! She has no shame about flopping over on her back on the sofa beside anyone and raising her front legs for a possible tummy rub. This is the same dog that will back up if she thinks you are about to pat her on top of the head. However, she doesn't mind a gentle stroke from her forehead across her head and down her neck and back.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I thought this was called a "personality" not a problem. I know some people who have this issue as well -- I wish they would just mellow out like most of the dogs I know. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      this is a great HUB. If you think about it, it only makes sense.. I think if we do not like to be patted on the head why would a dog like to be patted? and they can have earaches like we do.. They hurt like we do.. Love this HUB.. I am going to get my sons to read it. I am bookmarking it for them..I VOTED UP AND AWESOME.